Wednesday, July 10, 2019

What Lurks in the Lake?

Grocery run!
On Monday, July 8, we left Cayuga Lake State Park and headed south. The first order of the day: a provisioning stop in Union Springs, which has a nice grocery store within walking distance of the town dock.

The bulletin board at the dock had the usual notices about fishing regulations and the importance of wearing a life jacket. There was also an interpretive panel about Cayuga Lake’s mystery monster.

Champ’s Cousin, Perhaps?

In 1897 an Ithaca resident told the local paper he was certain he'd spotted an enormous serpent.
Note: The hitchhiker riding with him said it was a muskrat.
Scotland has the Loch Ness monster. Lake Champlain has Champ. And Cayuga Lake—which like these first two lakes is very long, very narrow, very cold, and very deep, is also reportedly home to a giant, eel-like creature, affectionately called “Old Greeny.”

An often-cited Ithaca Journal article reported in 1897 that a local man, driving the eastern shore, spotted an enormous water serpent. The article stated that this was nothing new;  residents had been seeing Old Greeny every year since 1837!

More recently, in 1974, a boy reported to a local emergency room with a broken arm, allegedly the result of an encounter with the monster. And a reputable professional diver claimed to have spotted it on a dive in 1979.

A Monstrous Problem

Back on the water after scoring some provisions, we scanned the water with new enthusiasm. The serpent stayed submerged, but we had a pleasant floating lunch. (Want Boat Gourmet's recipe for Farro Salad with Edamame and Feta?) 

Then we docked at Taughannock State Park so we could hike in to see the famous waterfall (see image at right).

I stopped at the park office to pick up the “vehicle pass” that would let us tie up for an hour (the ranger directed me to display it on my windshield!) 

As I left, I heard two young men speaking a little loudly with another ranger. “No swimming?” they said with some heat. “We came all this way! Isn’t there another beach?”

I found Bill at the concession stand, ordering an ice cream cone, and asked the kid behind the counter if he knew why the swim beach was closed. 

“Blue-green algae” he replied, and riffed into a 5-minute dissertation on the cause of the bloom (phosphorus run-off from dairy farms and the septic systems of lakeside cottages) and the harmful effects of the toxins released by the algae.

Seriously? Harmful Algal Blooms Here?

I’d always heard that Cayuga Lake was exceptionally clean.  It was a shock to learn that the ice cream guy got the story exactly right. In recent years, harmful algal blooms have plagued the southern part of the lake. It was listed in 2002 as violating the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Yuck! Cayuga Lake is the primary drinking water source for about 100,000 people, and plenty of lakefront cottages get their water directly from the lake.

Those little floating cells are heck of a lot scarier than a snake-like monster.

At the end of the day, we docked at the Thirsty Owl winery. Check out the pix on Facebook!

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